When it comes to massive migration from rural areas, the city of Naogaon is starting to mirror Dhaka, the capital. People from remote areas are flocking to cities in droves in search of a better livelihood, driving up urban populations. Some stay, while many others from neighbouring suburbs come and go on a daily basis.
The growing number of people looking for work in Naogaon has however led to illegal occupation of sidewalks and parking lots, shrinking city road space. The number of small and slow-moving vehicles has grown exponentially, taking a heavy toll on Naogaon's decades-old road communication system. Traffic congestion is taking its toll on city residents.
Experts suggest new roads, widening existing ones, evicting illegal sidewalk occupants to resolve the situation for the city's nearly 23.86 lakh people.
Naogaon has developed on two sides of the Little Jamuna river, which has divided the city and roadways remain the primary transportation medium for the city. Over a dozen single-lane roads now experience busy traffic on a daily basis, resulting in work hour loss and stress for commuters.
There are more than 20 main roads for vehicle movement in the city, but the illegal occupation of sidewalks, sometimes spilling onto the roads themselves, by transient traders and shopkeepers, is greatly hampering free movement on most city streets.
Anindya Tuhin, general secretary of Atchala, a literary and cultural organisation, said, "Planned roads must have sidewalks free of occupation. But street vendors have turned the sidewalks into bazaars, forcing pedestrians onto the very streets themselves, leading to accidents."
Transient or floating street vendors occupy road space and footpaths from the city's Sorisha Hati junction to the Old Bus-stand, Butter junction, Bridge junction, the Lytton Bridge junction and the Taj junction. The roads already accommodate permanent shops on both sides but on top of that, with floating traders doing business in front of the shops, there is hardly any space for pedestrians or vehicles to move freely.
In other places of the city, including Gostahatti, Mistipatti, Churipatti, permanent shopkeepers illegally occupy the space in front of their shops with goods piled up as well.
Slow-moving vehicles winding through shrinking road space further contributes to traffic congestion.
According to Naogaon Municipality data, there are about 1,400 licensed battery-powered auto-rickshaws and about 1,000 rickshaws in the city, with about 300 more rickshaws waiting for licenses.
Naogaon Municipality Traffic Inspector Nurul Islam Montu said, including vehicles coming into town from neighbouring areas, about 10,000 slow-moving vehicles move in the city every day.
"These vehicles enter the city from different unions every morning and leave the city at the end of the day. There is no prohibition on vehicles entering the city from neighbouring unions without a municipal license, leading to abnormal traffic patterns and congestion," he said.
Arafat Hossain Himel, a city resident, said Naogaon city's unplanned road system is the main culprit for traffic problems. Most of the city's roads are narrow and potholed. In the rainy season, the potholes turn into sewers.
Despite the city having more than 20 main roads, traffic jams never end, he said, adding that large vehicles on the bypass road add to the traffic congestion.
Widen the roads
Experts are calling for widening the city's roads to address traffic congestion.
"Road widening should be a priority for the city and the development of an area of the municipality should be planned in advance," said Naogaon Municipality Executive Engineer Jahangir Alam.
However, given Naogaon is an old city, he says it is not possible to develop it overnight. Development will take time.
Echoing Nurul Islam's remarks, Naogaon Municipality Mayor Md Nazmul Haque Soni said, "There are traffic jams because of vehicles entering the city from neighbouring unions.
"If traffic police are vigilant and active at the entry points of the city, traffic congestion can be reduced."
Regarding the eviction of illegal establishments, he said, "Illegal occupiers of road space were not evicted earlier as no magistrate could be found to lead the drives. Now a magistrate has been appointed in the municipality."
He said, "The Lytton Bridge crossing the Little Jamuna river is not very wide, and even there, hawkers and street vendors have taken over its sidewalk. They were not evicted on humanitarian grounds, but with the traffic problem growing, eviction seems necessary at this point," he added.